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Bertrand Russell - Why i Am a Rationalist

Bertrand Russell - Why i Am a Rationalist

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Published by: Uday on Nov 25, 2009
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Why I am a Rationalist
Bertrand Russell
Why I Am A Rationalist
The Rational Habit Of Mind Is A Rare One
I am, in this age when there are a great many appeals to unreason, an unrepentantRationalist. I have been a Rationalist ever since I can remember, and I do not propose tocease to be so whatever appeals to unreason may be made. We have listened to a speech,by which I think we were all much moved, about the pioneers in the past who have donewhat they could to promote the cause of freedom of thought. I suppose it is for me tospeak about the great need of continuing this work in our own day, and about how muchthere is that remains for all who sympathize with its objects to accomplish. We are notyet, and I suppose men and women never will be, completely rational. Perhaps, if wewere, we should not have all the pleasures that we have at present; but I think completerationality is so distant a prospect that we need not be much alarmed by it, and the nearestapproach that we are likely to get is sure to be all to the good. I certainly find that there isa very great deal of irrationality still about in the world.While Professor Graham Wallas was speaking about the bequests that have been made tothe Rationalist Press Association I was thinking: What is its creed, what is its dogma, andwhat is going to be the, so to speak, doctrine that these benefactions are going to bedevoted to propagating? You have, of course, to be a little careful, when you findyourself landed with endowments and benefactions, lest you should become anotherendowed church. (
) As far as I can see, the view to which we are committed,one which I have stated on a former occasion, is that we ought not to believe, and weought not to try to cause others to believe, any proposition for which there is no evidencewhatever. That seems a modest proposition, and if you can stick to that you will be fairlysure that you are not going to become a sort of ossified endowed church. We ought not tocommit ourselves to dogmatic negations any more than to dogmatic affirmations; weought merely to say that there are a great many propositions about which men andwomen feel pretty certain, but, concerning which they have no right to feel certain, and itis our business as Rationalists to try to make them see that those things are not certain. Iam told that that is a very wicked position to maintain. I have here a book recentlypublished which I commend to your attention. You may or may not know that some littletime ago, under the auspices of the National Secular Society, I delivered a lecture on"Why I am Not a Christian." Now, It appears that I did not know why it is that I am not aChristian; and here is a book which will tell you why I am not -- by Mr. H. G. Wood,who is a somewhat eminent member of the Society of Friends, a body for which I havethe greatest respect. His book is called
Why Mr. Bertrand Russell is Not a Christian
. Itseems that the reasons are not those which I thought they were. He says in one sentence:"The main reason why he is not a Christian is that he simply does not know what religionis." One might say that Mr. Wood is not an Agnostic because he does not know whatAgnosticism is. After all, I had all the benefits of a Christian education, and he did nothave the benefits of an Agnostic education; so that possibly the argument might beconsidered two-edged. Nevertheless, I commend the book to your attention, and you willthen know why it is that I am not a Christian.
There is a very large amount of Rationalist work required in the world. I think the battleis quite as fierce as ever it was. Take, for example America. America is a very importantcountry. What America thinks today the rest of the world will be forced to think tomorrow, and therefore what America thinks is important. There are some hopefulfeatures about America. I was recently on a boat going to America, and a minister of religion on the boat invited me to speak to his congregation about my views on religion. Isaid: "Yours must be a very broad-minded congregation"; and this minister of religion,somewhat to my surprise, replied: "Oh, of course, I do not believe in God." I met otherministers of religion in America who took the same line. That, I must say, somewhatsurprised me; but they are, I am afraid, rather a small minority, and the great bulk of Americans are still extremely theological. Moreover, we have to face the very seriousposition due to the growth of the Roman Catholic Church in America, because, as far as Ican see, the Roman Catholic Church is likely to dominate America in another fifty or ahundred years by the sheer increase of numbers, and not by rational propaganda. That is avery grave matter, and a matter which I think will affect the whole of the civilized worldvery much. Of course, you know that already in Boston, which was once the home of advanced Protestantism, the Roman Catholics rule the whole place; and there is acensorship upon literature more severe than in any other part of America. I expect youknow that in America men are still sent to prison for Atheism, not only in FundamentalistStates, but even in States of the East, and altogether there is in that part of the world anenormous need of propaganda on these matters. It is very important to all of us, becausethe Americans tend more and more to rule the world, and we shall find ourselves in avery difficult position unless we can more or less liberalize them -- a mission, I may say,in which I have done what I can, and my wife has also.We have to realize that the attitude of Rationalism, which I defined as that of notbelieving a proposition or causing others to believe it unless there is at least some reasonfor supposing it to be true, is by no means widespread. Take the matter of education,concerning which Professor Graham Wallas spoke. In most countries of the world a greatmany extremely dubious propositions are taught to the young with great emphasis, andthe young grow up accepting those extremely dubious propositions. If by any chance youattempt, as my wife and I are attempting at this moment, to bring up a small number of young people free from superstition, you find yourself in a very difficult situation. Youfind, of course, that the public money which goes to education will not be given to anyeducation that involves no element of superstition; you find that support is extremelydifficult to obtain; you find that altogether it is thought that, whatever grown men andwomen may be allowed to think, the young, at any rate, ought to believe a whole lot of absurdities, and that it is quite impossible for the young to attain the necessary minimumof virtues unless you produce an extremely large number of very bad arguments in favorof that virtue-arguments which, of course, they will see through as soon as they get a littleolder; but it is thought that what they do then when they see through them does not somuch matter. I cannot quite take that view. I think that any virtue that you may believe inshould be one that you can support from the very first without appealing to anything thatyou do not yourself believe. Education will have to be quite enormously transformed if that view is accepted. I believe that it is at present illegal in every country of the worldexcept Russia to teach children in the kind of way which skilled medical practitioners

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